Mushroom hunting

Mushroom hunting

Every season has its treats!

Much excitement this week: the mushroom season has started! The first haul of wild mushrooms, came right from my own field where my donkeys and sheep live (I even made a little video!)

Every year I (impatiently) wait for this moment... Like the first spring daffodils or the first summer berries on the hedge, the first meal of wild mushrooms marks the ever-moving cycle of the seasons. It fills me with excitement and gratitude for the abundance around me, tinged with sadness for yet another summer (almost) over and with it another year drawing to a close. Time flies... I need to remind myself, that, at the very least, I can mark the passing of time with such seasonal rituals.

Like the explosion of wild greens in the spring, I can't help noticing mushrooms sprouting everywhere around me. Living here in North Wales has compelled me to learn more about them, so that I can tell, with certainty, which ones I can eat safely. It has certainly been an (ongoing) learning process, but one I'll happily spend time on, as it always results in a delicious meal! 

And it's such an easy meal too: I like my mushrooms best simply cooked in olive oil and/or butter, with a bit of onion, garlic and some herbs. If I got a bucketful, we'll just have a big plate of mushrooms with some salad. If I only got a couple of handfuls, I'll put them in an omelette, a risotto, or indeed on top of a farinata pancake.

A couple more mushroom cooking tips (wild or shop bought): 

  • Mushrooms contain a lot of moisture. They are like sponges, so will soak up extra moisture whenever possible. For that reason:
  • Never wash mushrooms, just gently wipe or brush off any soil debris - or you'll end up with a soggy mess.
  • Cook them on high heat so that their moisture evaporates quickly - or you'll end up boiling them (doesn't apply to making a soup, obviously).

We tend to perceive mushrooms as plants because, like plants, they are 'rooted' to something and can't move. But, in fact, fungi are neither plant nor animal - they inhabit a whole kingdom of nature of their own. Plants make their own energy out of light and air through the process of photosynthesis; fungi (like animals) rely on external sources of energy. They feed either on decomposing matter or via symbiotic or parasitic relationships with other organisms, taking up nutrients from their hosts.

Mushrooms are amazing and powerful, and have to be treated with respect. And it's that respect, rather than fear, that has been my guide in learning about wild food. Instead of avoiding the possible dangers of foraging I learned to triple check everything twice - because the thing is, if you learn what to look for (or rather, what several things to look for) it is quite easy to tell them apart, even the lookalikes. Disclaimer: I do not recommend you gather anything unless you know what you are doing. Always do your homework and be respectful of nature and your environment.

True, the whole procedure of learning, searching, finding, identifying and picking takes quite some time (at first). But it is exactly that effort you put into 'making dinner happen' that brings so much more excitement, fun and joy to cooking - and eating: there is something about 'working for your dinner' that makes it so much more exhilarating and satisfying. And I suspect the adventure of trying something new adds to the thrill too.

But also remember: You don't actually need to forage outside to experience that kind of excitement - you can forage right there in your own kitchen! Approach your cooking with the curious eyes of a forager and see what you can find right there under your nose, hiding in your kitchen cupboards. Open yourself up to new experiences and appreciate the little extra effort that goes into preparing your meal with care. It makes everything taste so much more exciting because, in the end, it's all about the journey!

If you now feel like you want to learn more about foraging, that's great! Look for a foraging walk in your area. They may not be obvious but they are there, coming and going with the seasons. If you go look for them you'll find them...

Some of my favourite mushrooming resources:

River Cottage Handbooks: Mushrooms
Roger Phillips: Mushrooms
Geoff Dann: Edible Mushrooms: A Forager's Guide
Wild Food UK

Categories: EXPLORE


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